«CHARLEMAGNE: THE MAKING OF AN IMAGE, 1100-1300 By JACE ANDREW STUCKEY A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN ...»
Va, si fas cumencer, ja nen I faldrat uns!” L’emperere l’entent: leez et joiant fud.46 At that time there came an angel sent by God;
He went to Charlemagne and raised him up:
Burns, “Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne,” Olifant, 10, p. 172.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 57.
”Charles, fear not, so Jesus tells you;
The boasts that you made last night were great madness:
Never again make fun of any man, thus Christ enjoins you.
Go ahead, start carrying them out; not a single one will fail you!” The Emperor hears him well: he is happy and joyful.
And indeed, with divine aid, all of the miraculous ‘jests’ are accomplished by Charlemagne and his men. Burns goes on to argue that the portrait of kingship here is in a sense ‘apocalyptic.’ The outcome of the trial leads to another kind of coronation – a ‘final coronation.’ Here, Charlemagne not only survives the trial, but in the end proves himself as a ruler who has surpassed all others. He is not just God’s chosen advocate, but he is elevated to a Christological status that puts him on the same plane as Christ himself.
This really complicates the relationship between regnum and sacerdotium. In this representation, Charlemagne becomes a kind of ‘Priest-King.’ In fact, Charlemagne, in virtually every epic poem, is presented as the representative of Christ more so than the pope or any other churchmen. In the very least, he is favored by God above all others.
The poet writes, “Deus I fist grant vertut pur amur Carlemaigne:”47 (God performed a great miracle for the love of Charlemagne). At the end of the poem, Charlemagne is presented to the reader/listener as being above Hugo and all other earthly kings.
Charlemagne is given the status of divine kingship. Hugo says:
“Sire,” dist Carlemaines al rei Hugun le Fort, “Ore estes vus mis heoms, veant trestuz les voz;
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 67.
“Sire,” Said Charlemagne to King Hugo the Strong, “You have now become my liegeman, in the presence of all your people, Today we must celebrate, feast and have great entertainment;
And we shall wear our gold crowns side by side.
I am ready to wear mine out of friendship for you.” “And I, mine,” said Hugo, “in your honor:
We shall have a procession in there, in the cloister.”
The imagery concerning the kings and where they stand in relation to one another could not be more explicit. Charlemagne stands ‘taller’ and Hugo wears his crown a little ‘lower.’ The image here corresponds directly to much of the tradition of medieval iconography, in that, the most important figures are depicted larger than everyone else.
Charlemagne is clearly the most important figure in the poem.
However, it is important to consider the possibility that the descriptions of Charlemagne in comparison to Christ are intended entirely as ‘satire’ and that the entire poem should not be viewed as a positive image of divine kingship, but as a comic parody of the Song of Roland and other epic works.49 A number of scholars have suggested that Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 67-69.
A view espoused by D.D.R. Owen, “Voyage de Charlemagne and Chanson de Roland,” in Studi Francesi, 11 (1967), p. 468-472.
the poet is, in fact, mocking Charlemagne, the relics, as well as the monarchy.50 The lack of surviving manuscripts does suggest the possibility that the poem was suppressed in favor of the events as described in the more popular and less satiric Descriptio. The tone of the poem certainly does not have the heroic or epic feel of Roland or Aspremont. In addition, most scholars have consistently interpreted the poem as a critique or parody of the epic image of Charlemagne and perhaps the twelfth-century French monarchy.
However, some more recent work has taken a serious look at the image of sacral kingship. Julianne Vitullo has maintained that “despite the initial portrayal of the emperor as frivolous, when he arrives in Jerusalem the Patriarch greets him as the divinely elected ruler of the world…[and throughout the poem]… the emperor’s office retains its sacral authority.”51 I tend to agree with this position. The author emphasizes Charlemagne’s divine favor throughout the second half of the poem. The focus on ‘sacred kingship’ during Charlemagne’s visit to the East is likely a theme the author wished to convey to the audience. In the end, with limited sources, anything beyond the text itself is debatable. No doubt, that historians and literary scholars will continue to examine this enigmatic work and continue to debate it meaning and significance.
At first glance, one would not think that Girart de Vienne would suffer from these same issues of contradiction. After all, it is Girart who is honorable knight and vassal and it is Charlemagne who is the arrogant king and unjust feudal lord. However, in many ways the model of kingship found in Girart de Vienne is as complex and contradictory as John Grigsby, The Gab as a Latent Genre in Medieval French Literature, (Cambridge, Mass., The Medieval Academy of America, 2000). See also J. Grigsby, “The Relics Role in the Voyage de Charlemagne” Olifant 9, (Fall 1981): p. 20-34. J. Grigsby, “A note on the Genre of the Voyage de Charlemagne” in Essays in Early French Literature Presented to Barbara M. Craig, ed. N.J. Lacy and J.C.
Nash, (York, S.C., French Literature Publications, 1982), pp. 2-7.
Julianne Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy, p. 25.
that found in the Pilgrimage of Charlemagne. Although the author certainly sympathizes with Girart over Charlemagne and most certainly the nobility over the monarchy, he still depicts Charlemagne as a ‘great king.’ It is not so much Charlemagne’s actions in the story that create this sense of contradiction, but the many of the author’s own descriptions of the king.
Before the regrettable incident with Charlemagne’s marriage to the woman promised to Girart and before the major hostilities begin, Charlemagne is described in entirely positive terms. At one point, a noble kneels before Charlemagne and says;
“Cil Damedeu qui en croiz fu penez Gart Ch [arlemene], le fort roi coronné Le meillor prince de la crestienté”52 “May God our Lord, Who bore the pain of the Cross, Protect our crowned and strong King Charlemagne, The noblest Prince in Christendom’s domains.” All of Charlemagne’s vassals are faithful to him and continually strive to serve and please their king. However, what is surprising is that even during the feud and war between Charlemagne and Girart, Charlemagne is still described in positive terms. Charlemagne is continually described as a ‘fine king,’ a ‘true’ and ‘powerful emperor,’ as ‘fierce, as ‘wise’ and as the “Lord of St. Denis.”53 Even when Charlemagne is captured by Girart’s men, most treat him with a great deal of honor and respect. The problem here seems to be how to deal with the issue of legitimacy. Girart exemplifies this when Aymeri says;
“Biaus oncle, car l’oci!
Pran en la teste tot meintenant ici!
Si remendra la guerre et li estris.
Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, publié par Wolfgang Van Emden, (Paris, Société des Anciens Textes Francais, 1973), pp. 80-81.
The Song of Girart of Vienne by Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, trans. Michael A. Newth, (Tempe, Arizona, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999), p. 109.
Although at war with Charlemagne, Girart still respects Charlemagne for his position and his past exploits. Girart is given two opportunities to kill Charlemagne and in both instances he refuses. Girart’s goal is not to overthrow Charlemagne or the monarchy, but to preserve his own honor and the rights of the nobility.
Throughout the poem, it seems as though the author is uncertain as to how to deal with these contradictions. Girart is at war with Charlemagne, but refuses to kill him.
Charlemagne is the rightful king, an able military leader, and great knight. However, in this particularly case, he is also in the ‘wrong.’ He has broken feudal custom and dishonored one of his own vassals. Consequently, Charlemagne is given a broad range of strengths and weaknesses. As a result, he is perhaps more human than the figure we encounter in Roland and the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle. His representation ranges from generous and conciliatory to spiteful and antagonistic.55
The popularity of the crusading epic the Song of Roland led to numerous adaptations of the work in other regions. Two cases of particular interest here are Italy and Germany. The most famous adaptation is probably the Rolandslied, a German adaptation by Priest Konrad. Konrad doubled the length of the original Roland and Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, publié par Wolfgang Van Emden, (Paris, Société des Anciens Textes Francais, 1973), p 283.
The Song of Girart of Vienne by Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, trans. Michael A. Newth, p. xv.
magnified the ideal of image of Charlemagne as a crusading king. In contrast, the critique of Charlemagne that exists in some French literary sources and in particular the rebel-baron cycle was not adopted by the German poets of the twelfth and thirteenth century.56 For various reasons, the German poets adopted stories such as Roland, which depicted Charlemagne in an overwhelmingly positive light. This furthers the argument that the French poems are a reflection of political problems between the monarchy and the nobility since these same problems did not exist in the same way in the German Empire. As a result, these stories concerning rebel-barons and flawed monarchs tended not to be as popular in the German lands. However, the Italian tradition, which is a later development, beginning in the mid- to late-thirteenth-century, does adopt the French model of representation of Charlemagne almost wholesale. In other words, there are both positive and negative portraits of Charlemagne. There are often different themes in the Franco-Italian poems and Charlemagne’s portrait ranges from ideal and mythical to burlesque and foolish. They often “present the king of France as corrupt and selfish, [and] there is always an alternative, a ‘real’ leader, who comes from a noble family but displays more virtue and skill than the emperor. Neither the methods nor the goals of the Carolingian epic hero change drastically in their transplantation to northern Italy.”57 Although in Italy, the French feudal structures did not exist, there are many feudal customs and values that did exist, especially in the North.58 This is even more prominent in the fourteenth and fifteenth-century works. Men such as Roland and Ogier (of Karl-Ernst Geith, Carolus Magnus: Studien zur Darstellung Karls des Grossen in der deutschen Literatur des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts, (Munchen: Francke Verlag Bern, 1977).
Julianne Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy, p. 24.
Karl Bender, “Les métamorphoses de la royauté de Charlemagne dans les premières épopées francoitaliennes,” in Cultura Neolatina 21 (1961), p. 164.
Chevalerie Ogier) become equal if not superior to Charlemagne. In addition, they are presented as the defenders of the Christian world more than Charlemagne.59 However, as with most French cases, there is reconciliation between nobles and king, and the authors often reemphasize Charlemagne’s status as le milor rois (the best king).60
The action and themes of the epic works of the twelfth-century implicitly and explicitly espouse the crusade ideology that permeated Western culture, and particularly France, during this period. In works such as Roland, The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, and Aspremont, I would argue, the theme is a crusade, so the emphasis is expected. However, many sources outside the geste du roi often contain implicit references and themes associated with the crusades. This is the case with Le Pélerinage de Charlemagne and Girart de Vienne. The crusades are such a prevailing theme and the ideology so widespread within twelfth- and thirteenth-century culture that it is difficult to remove it entirely from the literary corpus, even if the theme does not directly involve a crusade.
The two works discussed in this chapter are ideal examples.
Le Pélerinage de Charlemagne The theme of the poem does not directly include the crusades. There are no battles or any fighting between Muslims and Christians. There are no Muslim characters in the poem. Charlemagne and his men do not even take weapons on their journey. However, interestingly enough there are still references that connect Charlemagne to crusading. As Julianne Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy, pp. 23-24.
Julianne Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy, p 28.
Charlemagne is about to leave Jerusalem for Constantinople, he has an interesting exchange with the Patriarch. The poet writes;
L’emperere de France I out tant demuret,
Li patriarche prist, si l’en ad apelet:
“Vostre cunget bael sire, si vus plaist me donet:
En France, a mun realme, m’en estut returner;
Pose at que jo n’i fui, si ai mult demurret, E ne set mis barnages quel part jo sui turnet Faites. C. mulz receivre d’or et d’argent trusset.” E dist li patriarches: “Ja mar en parlerez!
Tuz li mens granz tresors vus seit abandunez:
Tant en prengent Franceis cum en vuldrent porter Mais que de Saraczins, de paiens vus gardet, Qui nus volent destrure sainte Christientez!” E dist li patriarches: “Savez dunt jo vus priz?
De Sarazins destrure, ki nus ount en despit.” “Volenters,” co dist Karles. Sa fei si l’en plevit.
The Patriarch said: “Do you understand what I am asking you to do?
To destroy the Saracens who profess hatred against us.” “I shall gladly,” said Charles; and he pledged his faith.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 20-22.